Three for 3: The NBA Western Conference Preview

By: The Same Page Team

For an inaugural NBA season preview, the Same Page Team thought they’d get together to answer three compelling questions for each conference in anticipation of the 2012-2013 season. Join Daniel Reynolds, Dan Grant and Richie Guzman as they attempt to go Three for 3. For their Eastern Conference preview check here. Now: The Western Conference.

Which off-season trade will have the greatest impact in the Western Conference?

Richie: We are faced with the obvious answer here being the Los Angeles Lakers with their new roster being prematurely dubbed “New Showtime Lakers”. As a Laker fan, I am obviously ecstatic about the off-season acquisitions of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, but what I was most pleased to see was Mitch Kupchak going DEEP and building that bench. For a team as big as the Lakers, they had probably one of the worst benches in the league. The key players then being Andrew Goudelock (Happy Trails, bud. Could never pronounce your name anyways) and Jordan Hill who at times showed signs of being potentially a great role player. This year the Lakers boast a B side with a returning Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks and Antawn Jamison coming in to take control while Kobe and Co. rest. While not the biggest names in the league, these guys can definitely play and can offer some blue collar fire power while earning their minutes. Most of all, this team can shoot the lights out with 5 excellent three point shooters in Nash, Blake, Meeks, Chris Duhon and Bryant! It’s good to see this team expanding to more options beyond Kobe as it has been for the past 5 seasons. I expect nothing less than a top finish in the West and another tough chapter in the OKC rivalry. And if the Lakers bench is not the best option then they are just going to have to put some elbow grease into it. I’m looking at you, Metta.

Dan: It’s gotta be the Lakers right? LA’s summer acquisitions of the Nash-ional Treasure and the Dwightmare to play alongside the Black Mamba and Pau ‘hey Ma. Where’s my L?’ Gasol dwarf any other story league-wide this off-season. In two aggressive moves, the Lakers did simultaneously what much of the league struggles to do even one of. They planned for the now, adding Nash to run the point and make a run at it all this season. Then they planned for the future, adding Howard, the league’s best centre and best interior defender, who is also just 26. They also continued their venerable tradition of poaching the leagues marquee centre from a smaller market team (shots fired!). However, after last year’s travesty of a Chris Paul trade veto, the Lakers were due a little good karma. It’s been written many times in many places but the two big questions about the Lakers now are: ‘How will Kobe deal with not having the ball in his hands all the time?’ And ‘How is Dwight’s back after surgery?’ Sadly for Laker haters everywhere (myself included) I think the answer to both questions is ‘just fine’. Kobe respects Nash after their career long playoff duels and Howard has come back earlier than expected and looks great. Things are shaping up for an absolutely epic Western Conference final or semi-final (depending on the seeding) between the Lakers and the Oklahoma City Thunder. LA doesn’t really have anyone that can stop Durant, Westbrook and Harden but with their new look offence, will they have to? I can’t wait to find out.

Daniel: I’m not going to talk about the Lakers. I refuse. Talking about that starting lineup (and the ways in which it was put together) just feels redundant now, like discussing the assembly of an atomic bomb. Well, if the new Lakers team is built to run the opposition through an atom smasher, then the Denver Nuggets, with the savvy acquisition of Andre Iguodala, are built like a fighter jet, ready to strafe the court (the fact that they helped facilitate the whole Howard deal to get Iguodala can be chalked up as collateral damage).

The Nuggets had one of the fastest teams last year, built to hustle up the court and keep teams off balance (a team run by Ty Lawson will do that). Since they have a general lack of size (JaVale McGee not withstanding), it has made sense for them to construct a team that can abuse the plodding, conventional weaponry of a standard NBA defence. With the addition of Iguodala, they’ve essentially upgraded from Aaron Afflalo (not a bad player) to one of the premiere two-way players in the league. Iggy is able to defend any perimeter player while also fearlessly running out on the break. And as an added bonus, they got to dump Al Harrington off on the Magic. Streamlining! They may have helped re-arm the Lakers, but the Nuggets, with their new piece in Iguodala, may be able to just blow them off the court.

Yeah, this team probably deserves some attention.

Who will be the Western Conference’s breakout player?

Richie: Since his rookie season when he closed the year out averaging 18 points a game, basketball fans everywhere were expecting Ovington J’Anthony Mayo to be the next big thing in Memphis. Arriving the season after the infamous “Pau Gasol for a bag of chips” trade to the Lakers, OJ was playing consistently great basketball for a new look team. After a great couple of seasons in Memphis, his career took a step back after being taken out of the starting line up for being late, getting into fisticuffs with Tony Allen and being suspended for testing positive for a banned substance (which he blamed on an energy drink). Yes, it’s been a rough couple of years in the life of Mayo. However, with a fresh start in Dallas and all the minutes he could ask for, I think it’s time for Mayo to finally flourish. He’s got great veteran leaders to keep him straight and a front office that absolutely loves his game. This is a great signing for Dallas who has yet to acquire a player that will take the reign as the future face of the team once Dirk retires. The boy can shoot, he can cut to the hoop, he’s a flashy finisher, and he’s only 25 with lots of room to grow. They’ve been holding him back in Memphis but I think it’s safe to say “ The Juice is Loose” in Dallas (I had to, I’m sorry).

Dan: People gave us crap about our Eastern Conference ‘breakout’ player section so I decided to go a little more under the radar here. I really think the player to keep your eye on this season is the Golden State Warriors Klay Thompson.

Thompson plays in a smaller market with bigger names so he doesn’t get much notice but he’s a throwback traditional 2-guard. He’s athletic, gets up and down the floor, plays defence and can shoot the lights out. He was relegated to the bench for much of last year, his rookie season, because of the Monta Ellis/Stephen Curry tandem and Dorrell Wright. But with Ellis shipped to Milwaukee for Andrew Bogut and Wright an absolute disaster after his breakout 2010-11 campaign, Thompson got a lot of run towards the end of last year and he excelled. He averaged 18 points per game as a starter in 34 minutes, posting a 45/38/90 shooting percentage line. There’s room for improvement in terms of efficiency but he’s the perimeter scorer that the Warriors are going to need if Stephen Curry is going to become a true distributor. If (and it’s a massive if) Curry and Bogut can remain healthy, the Warriors starting 5 is really intriguing. Curry, Thompson, rookie Harrison Barnes, David Lee and Bogut look like a unit that could compete with the league’s best on any given night. They also have an air of defensive responsibility, something Coach Mark Jackson has stressed since his arrival, doing away with Nellie ball and the days of run and gun. Thompson is a big part of that, using his elite athleticism to defend on the perimeter and always hustling. He’s looked solid so far this pre-season and while there might be a bit of a sophomore learning curve, I expect the best for Thompson this year and in the future.

Daniel: The Portland Trailblazers are all over the map these days. Is it just me or does it feel like only yesterday when they were the team on the rise, ready to dominate the league like the OKC Thunder are doing now? Back then, they had young stars in the making in Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge (who is still with the team), and a complement of veterans (Gerald Wallace, Marcus Camby, Andre Miller), that suggested they were ready for a title run. Alas, somewhere around the time that Greg Oden went down with his 374th injury, and Roy’s knees finally gave out, the team just went into a spiritual funk (Jamal Crawford and Ray Felton didn’t help this either, I suppose).

Anyway, I think the way-finder for this team, the player who is going to have a breakout season while also doing what he can to reunite the new look squad, is Nicolas Batum. Over the past five years, Batum has been on hand for the franchises various ups and downs. His numbers have steadily climbed and his ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ offensive and defensive game are valuable for a team looking for some sense of unity moving forward. Also, he did this at the Olympics. If the guy who gives Juan Carlos Navarro a nutshot isn’t the breakout player of 2012-2013, I don’t know who is.

A new team. A steadying presence. Who will rise higher?

What is the most interesting Western Conference storyline for the coming season?

Richie: OK, so originally I was going to write about the Clippers and Chris Paul, as he enters a contract year amid a lot of speculation on whether or not he’s going to stay in LA or possibly venture off to New York (where he belongs). But after Saturday night’s blockbuster trade between OKC and Houston, I’ve gotta write about the changes coming in Houston. To put it frankly, Houston sucks. They are still a terrible team in transition and this trade does absolutely nothing to make them a better team. Sure they have a fantastic backcourt in Lin and Harden but these are two players with very similar offensive styles, not to mention a high turnover rate. But the real story here is that the NBA is about to see the power of the beard and the full potential of James Harden. With guaranteed starter minutes and no one to really share his spotlight with, James Harden is going to be a sure contender for the scoring title. He’s the only true scorer in Houston and the new face of the team. The question still remains if he will remain a Rocket once the contract expires but Houston definitely has the money he is worth to throw at him once he becomes a Free Agent. I am excited to see if James Harden has what it takes to be a franchise player. The man deserves to be on his own and not have to share the spotlight, but can he handle all the attention? With a beard like that, I think he’s used to it. FEAR THE BEARD!

Dan: I think one of the weirder story lines from this season will belong to the Dallas Mavericks and I am definitely keeping my eyes peeled. After their 2010-11 championship, the Mavericks essentially threw their title defence, allowing Tyson Chandler and JJ Barea to walk away and not really doing much to replace them. Their marquee player showed up completely out of shape, something he later admitted to, with the team having to shut him down for a conditioning stint midway through the season. With the lockout and the abbreviated training camp, the Mavericks looked on the court exactly how they looked on paper: super, super old. However, the light at the end of the tunnel was that by allowing Chandler and Barea to leave, they were gearing up to sign hometown boy Deron Williams this off-season. Perfect! Great plan! Except that it didn’t happen. Williams re-upped in Brooklyn. Jason Kidd then departed for the Knicks, Jason Terry for the Celtics and suddenly the Mavericks didn’t look much like championship team of not-so old (not to mention suffering a severe ‘Jason’ drought). They’ve replaced the old veterans (Kidd, Terry, Erick Dampier) with new veterans (Elton Brand, Chris Kaman and returning for a second stint…the out of shape Vince Carter!) and they’ve at least tried to add some youth on the perimeter in OJ Mayo and Darren Collison. Shawn Marion is still hanging around, as is perennial breakout candidate Rodrigue Beaubois. Rookie Jae Crowder is getting rave reviews. But Nowitzki has already had knee surgery and is slated to miss the start of the season, Kaman is struggling with pre-season injury issues and Brand and Carter are so far past their primes that they can’t even see them in the rear-view mirror (of life? That didn’t really make sense. But you understand me). The Mavericks are a mess. And you know what Mark Cuban does with messes? He lights them on fire with $100 bills. I look forward to his upcoming over-reactions and crazy media rants.

Daniel: When Mark Jackson took over as coach of the Golden State Warriors I reacted with mixed emotions. On the one hand, Jeff Van Gundy would be losing one of his best comic foils (thank God Mike Breen is still there), but on the other hand, ummm, I’d never have to hear him say “Momma, there goes that man!” again. I think my point is Mark Jackson is kind of tone deaf. The first thing he said when he got to Oakland, home of the historically free-wheeling Warriors, was that he was going to turn them into a defensive powerhouse. At the time, the team had Monta Ellis and David Lee (who is still on the team). See what I’m saying about being tone deaf? So, back in March, when the Warriors shipped off Ellis for noted defensive centre (and chronic bad luck case) Andrew Bogut, it felt like a sea change was coming. Now, Bogut hasn’t actually stepped on the court for the Warriors. He got to watch his new team apologetically tank the remainder of the season (it got so bad, the new owner was booed). He is still ailing from a bad back ankle elbow injury and has yet to act as the defensive lynchpin for Jackson’s new team identity. I’m not suggesting that Bogut can turn the whole team around by himself (especially one that has another gimpy player as its centrepiece), but I will be watching very keenly to see if he can reclaim his career, and maybe have a hand in changing the culture of a team that has over the years, regardless of its roster or coach (sorry, Mark), treated defence like a boring desk job: something you tolerate before getting to the fun stuff.

The new future in Houston. The Beard lives on.

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3 responses to “Three for 3: The NBA Western Conference Preview

  1. Another solid post guys.

    It’s hard to argue with the LA Moves. Though pre-season looked pretty bad for them, but who cares I suppose? It’s pre-season.

    Also looking forward to Iggy in Denver. He’s a perfect fit. He can run, knock down the 3, get some highlight dunks, and play lockdown D on the wing. It will be fun to watch.

  2. Yeah, I’m glad Daniel chose to write about the Nuggets. I think they’re really deep and going to be a really tough out in the playoffs for someone this year. If McGee can harness his talent, he and Faried are going to be an extremely athletic frontcourt and with Lawson, Miller, Iggy, Chandler and Gallinari, they’ve got a ton of skill on the perimeter as well.

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